Prisons and prisoners

That Julia Navalnaya is furious is, of course, only as it should be. That the late prisoner’s mother is distraught, likewise. That those who care for Navalny are deeply upset is, to say the least, more than natural.

For my part, I am, however, more concerned about the conditions endured by other prisoners in Russia.

The word “Siberia” tends to send shudders down people’s spines, and we were told that Navalny was sent to a “penal colony” in Siberia.

Now most of Russia is actually in Siberia. Novosibirsk is the third most populously city in all of Russia. Look at images of the Siberian towns of Omsk, Tobolsk and Tomsk: Much beauty there, apparently. Some places in the world are simply very cold, others are very hot, some very wet and some desperately dry. That is how things are. Much of my country is also very cold 6 months a year.

I must admit, though, that the penal colony Kharp in Yamalo-Nenets is far to the north of Novosibirsk. Nor is it a particularly pretty place. That does not mean, however, that conditions are comparable to those so eloquently described by Dostoevskij in House of the Dead or by Solzhenitsyn in The First Circle. The problem remains, though, that we don’t know much about conditions in penal colonies in Russia.

Even the very expression “penal colony” has unpleasant connotations. I assume that most prisons are unpleasant. They are not supposed to be vacation camps. However, I beg to differ emphatically from those who would “punish” criminals by subjecting them to physical discomfort. Deprivation of liberty is bad enough, and very many prisoners are suicidal.

In other words, I wish we knew more about conditions endured by prisoners in Russia. Certainly, the death of a 47-year-old whom we in the West – myself included – have considered a “political prisoner” is highly suspect, to say the least. The rabidly Russo-phobic Western press obviously considers his death a smoking gun.

Putin will have known that this would be the line taken by the Western press in the event of Navalny’s death. Thus, he is probably the least likely person to have ordered any extra-judicial killing of Navalny. That does not, however, exonerate him if conditions in Russian prisons are such that people die from untreated conditions, not to mention torture, undernourishment, etc., as was the case for the US journalist Gonzalo Lira in Ukraine, whose death was hardly mentioned in the press at all.

Why did the case of Gonzalo Lira – incarcerated in a Ukrainian prison and sadistically tortured at length – attract so little attention in the Freedom-and-Justice-loving Western press? Because he had criticised Zelensky’s Ukraine, just as Navalny had criticised Putin’s Russia. Lira barely made it from his cell to a hospital in time to die there, after he had sent futile pleas for help to the US Consulate in Kiev. Gonzalo Lira was no threat to Zelensky, whom he had, however, ridiculed.

Like Gonzalo Lira in Ukraine, the imprisoned Navalny represented no threat to the Russian powers- that-be prior to his death. Putin does face some opposition in Russia, yes – primarily, I believe, from old-time Communists, less from the EU-leaning liberal party Yabloko from which Navalny was expelled in 2007. There is also disparate opposition from nonconformist groups of young people – whom Navalny tried to rally. After his death, however, Navalny is a far greater threat to Putin than he ever was alive. Since time immemorial martyrs have been a tremendous rallying point for opposition.

There are those who hypocritically stand to gain by Navalny’s death: primarily Western warmongers and, of course the Zelenski-regime.

Leaving all that aside, what are conditions in Russian prisons? What are conditions in any prisons, for that matter. If relations between the West and Russia had been anywhere near “healthy”, we in the west could have asked to inspect their prisons and they could have asked to inspect ours.

Because, let’s face it, we have political prisoners as well. The most famous is, of course, Julian Assange who is currently too ill, after goodness knows how many years’ incarceration without a trial, to attend his ongoing – possibly last – hearing in UK.

P.S: I recommend a film, a French film, the English title of which is “All your Faces”. To quote Wikipedia:

The film explores the practice of restorative justice, which was introduced into the French criminal justice system in 2014. Restorative justice offers victims and perpetrators of offences to engage in mediated dialogue, supervised by professionals and volunteers.